A History of the Poles in America to 1908
Part II: The Poles in Illinois

By Waclaw Kruszka. Edited with an introduction by James S. Pula, with M. B. Biskupski, Stanley Cuba, et al.; translated by Krystyna Jankowski. [1901-1904; revised and enlarged edition, 1905-1908] Washington, D.C. The Catholic University of America Press. 1994. x+288 pages. Hardcover. $54.95.

Reviewed by John J. Bukowczyk

For Polish Americans, immigration historians, and chroniclers of the history of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, the translation and republication of Rev. Waclaw Kruszka's A History of the Poles in America has been a momentous scholarly event. Kruszka, a tireless campaigner for Polish representation and, more particularly, "equality of rights" (rownouprawnienie) in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in America, produced in this work not only a credible early overview of Polish immigrant institutions and social development but also a significant political polemic in the Polish church wars of the period.1

In this second volume (of this edition's four volumes), Kruszka proceeds to recount a remarkably detailed, if spotty, history of most of the dozens of Polish parishes established in Illinois by the first decade of this century. Whereas, in the original edition, the author began with the earliest of AmericaŐs Polish parishes, those in Texas and Wisconsin, the present editors, while retaining the region-by-region structure of the work, have elected first to present Kruszka's biting, tendentious review of parish development in Illinois and, more especially, Chicago, where Rev. Wincenty Barzyaski and the Polish priests of the Congregation of the Resurrection–the Resurrectionist fathers–waged a sometimes venal, often heroic struggle to build the physical and spiritual edifice of Polish Roman Catholicism and to preserve their own control over the institution they had created (what one Resurrectionist had called "the food granary for the order in the future" [33]) against challenges by nationalists, independents, and diocesan priests.

Though shaded differently from latterday works, KruszkaŐs account of Polish Roman Catholic Chicago tells a story by now long familiar to readers acquainted with, for example, those histories written by Joseph Parot and Victor Greene that analyzed relations between the protagonists of the St. Stanislaus Kostka parish (for its time the largest Roman Catholic parish in the United States and possibly the largest Polish parish in the world) and the Holy Trinity parish rebels.2 While fairly strident in his own viewpoint, to his credit Kruszka balances his account and largely eschews the filiopietism typifying many of PoloniaŐs antiquarian historians that succeeded him who felt embarrassed by the tears that rent the Polish community and, in turn, tore the seamless, stainless gown of the Holy Mother Church. In doing so, Kruszka picks through the often tacky details of a conflict that, writ large, implicated many of the grand ecclesiastical issues of the day in America, e.g., immigrant nationalism and lay trusteeism, independentism and schism, and the composition, organization, and ideological orientation of the Catholic Church in America. These, by turn, touch upon late twentieth-century themes, like the development of Roman Catholic, ethnic, and American identities and the tension between cultural pluralism and assimilation.

Readers who learned their version of PoloniaŐs clericalist/nationalist rivalry from secondary works without recourse to KruszkaŐs Polish original may find some special insights in this installment of the Kruszka translation. The volume, for example, interestingly suggests that the lenient treatment of Rev. Dominik Kolasi‡ski, the flamboyant and insubordinate Polish pastor, by diocesan officials in Detroit was perceived at the time as giving encouragement to Chicago independentism (110). The volume also may have lent credence to a political conclusion unintended by its author. Kruszka wished for his history to demonstrate the maturity of Polish settlement in America and thereby the rightfulness of PoloniaŐs claim for a bishop of Polish extraction; instead, the various "petty intrigues" (22), occasional "contemptible cut-throat behavior" (25), debt, mismanagement, irregularities, malfeasance (modesty and propriety may have prevented Kruszka from also itemizing the familiar allegations of sexual peccadilloes that often have sprinkled lists of charges and countercharges in other Polish immigrant enclaves) reported herein as easily might have been taken as an argument against elevating a Pole in the hierarchy and thereby exciting the passions of rival Polish factions. Indeed, had they read KruszkaŐs account, many an American churchman might have wished that these contentious Poles simply would go away.

Meanwhile, the reader will find in this volume so nonchalant and scathing a denunciation of Barzy‡ski and his Resurrectionist associates (whom Kruszka believes, at heart, were really secular priests in spiritual garb) that, though amounting to but a page or two of text, is, for its candor, worth the proverbial price of admission, however much a more sympathetic writer fairly might controvert it. The Resurrectionists, Kruszka wrote,
could have been an example only if they had known how to combine their priestly duties with a common, monastic life. But when, following the example of secular pastors, they wanted to lead a solitary life, and jointly with a brother or a housekeeper they would save money for themselves and their relatives, and in addition, they always wanted to be honorably called monks: there was something so unnatural, ugly, and horrible in this incompleteness, in this secular monasticity, and in "wanting to be what one wants, but to be called a Resurrectionist," that unintentionally everyone was filled with disgust and loathing. . . . [S]uch instability and incompleteness was constantly threatened with either material or moral bankruptcy: not being totally secular priests, the fathers were incapable of conducting the parish business and so went bankrupt financially; on the other hand, not being totally monks, the fathers were incapable of leading a monastic life and so went bankrupt morally. If they had been one or the other, either secular priests or monks, they would not have been threatened either by bankruptcy or by the breakdown of relations with the rest of the clergy and with the highest authority in Rome. (154)

"Name-calling and slandering is the normal weapon of the fathers," Kruszka later contended, charging that "[i]t is characteristic of them always to embellish their slandering, directed at other priests, with "a papal blessing" in order to impress the kindly people." (171) Heady stuff, indeed. Yet, this sweeping condemnation notwithstanding, KruszkaŐs account (of a ruinous workload, burgeoning parishes, the crush of baptisms and Lenten confessions, etc.) also manages to engender considerable sympathy for priests like Barzy‡ski and his colleagues who, by this early account, seem to have managed a far more tenuous hold on Polish Roman Catholic affairs in Chicago than secondary works may have suggested.

Of these contributions by the volume there is no doubt, but what of its general usefulness, accessibility, and appeal? Despite some winning descriptions (one South Chicago church, in KruszkaŐs words, "present[ed] an absolutely charming view in the evening because thousands of electric lights illuminate its interior, walls, arches, and ceiling" [195]) that communicate the texture and flavor of parish life and religious affairs in turn-of-the-century Polish Chicago (albeit from a priestŐs, not a parishionerŐs perspective), the denseness of the prose and the volume's sprawling, parish-by-parish organizational scheme make for some repetition and confusion, deprive the volume of either a strong narrative or a clear analytical line, and render rather anticlimactic the last roughly third of the text (which treats seriatim the various ancillary Chicago parishes and those of the downstate and outstate dioceses). While the general Polish-American reader might accordingly find the volume imposing, these attributes also likely will put off immigration and church historians who, by and large, have not incorporated Polish topics and themes into their narratives of Catholic Church history in America even when such materials were available to them in more accessible, readable monographic works.

This, therefore, remains a ponderous read that will serve the interests largely of Polish-American history specialists; and, at that, scholars will not realize its full utility until publication of the last of the four Kruszka volumes in this translation that will contain an index for the full work. Nonetheless, the editors and, in particular, James S. Pula, once again are to be congratulated for bringing this annotated translation of a classic Polish-American work into print for an English-speaking audience.


1 See my review of A History of the Poles in America, Part I, in The Sarmatian Review, 15:1 (January 1995), 298-9.

2 Joseph J. Parot, Polish Catholics in Chicago, 1850-1920: A Religious History (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1981); Victor Greene, For God and Country: The Rise of Polish and Lithuanian Ethnic Consciousness in America, 1860-1910 (Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1975).

John J. Bukowczyk is the author of And My Children Did Not Know Me: A History of the Polish Americans [1987].

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